Posts Tagged ‘Bernard Pallisy’

Lemnian Earth

March 23, 2014

“The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain” can be a fun read if you don’t mind digging a bit (and if you have no life outside the study of historical pottery).  This dated compendium of minutia concerning all things European includes some pretty odd entries.  But other entries present interesting perspectives on early pottery.  The following description of Lemnian Earth is one such entry:

“A medicinal clay found in the Greek islands of Lemnos and Samos, of great repute for its alleged curative properties.  The clay was prepared and worked into small cakes or tablets, and impressed with a seal by the guardian priestesses of Diana, hence the name given to it; ‘Terra Sigilata,’ or ‘sealed earth.’”

People have used clays for medicinal purposes since before there were even ‘people.’  Archeologists indicate Homo Habilis probably ate calcium rich white clays.  Eating clay, “geophagy” to be precise, has been practiced throughout the ages and on every continent.  Geophagy claims many medicinal benefits beyond being a source of calcium.  Clay absorbs toxins.  It soothes spleen and kidney complaints. Some even say eating certain clays increases sexual behavior.  But there are probably more efficient ways of achieving that last goal in this enlightened age.

Getting back to Lemnian Earth, Bernard Palissy offered a charming little footnote.  He said it was “nothing else than a kind of marl or clayey soil, which is dug deeply… They say that the aforesaid is very astringent.  And since they draw benefit from the aforesaid clay, they open their clay pits every year with great pomp accompanied by ceremonies.”

“Great pomp accompanied by ceremonies.”  My own clay comes from nearby Sheffield Pottery Supply, Inc.  It is dug and processed right there on site.  When I get a new batch, I simply open a bag and get to work.

Yes we live in an enlightened age.  I’m not sure what purpose would be served by eating Sheffield clay.  But I admit a touch of nostalgia for the magic surrounding the old Lemnian clay pits. 

Readings:

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  Reginald Haggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.

Clay: The History and Evolution of Humankind’s Relationship with Earth’s Most Primal Element.  Suzanne Staubach.  Berkley Hardcover/New York.  2005.

 

Failure

August 14, 2011

Thomas Toft.  Bernard Pallisy.  Daniel Bailey.  Everybody knows Toft and Pallisy. Two masters of their craft.  Bailey was a small time redware potter from Colonial Massachusetts.  But like Toft and Pallisy, Daniel Bailey was a trailblazer.

Daniel showed promise early, training at his father’s pottery shop.  By 16, he was a full fledged potter.  The potters around him in Newburyport north of Boston made the usual “potts and panns” of the day.  But Daniel tried his hand at tableware.  At teacups.  Plates.  Serving dishes.  Things you might use in the parlor with company.

Redware hadn’t been used this way.  It belonged in the barn and kitchen.  It was the ‘tupperware’ of the day.  The American Revolution’s goal of self sufficiency, showcasing native talent in the face of embargo and blockade, was about to begin.  Daniel Bailey saw the tide coming.

Like Toft and Paillsy, Bailey was swamped by events beyond his control.  Believing he saw a chance to make it on his own, Daniel moved to Gloucester in 1750.  James Gardner, the local potter there and friend of the Bailey family, had just passed away.  The town needed a potter.  Daniel married a Gloucester belle.  Then cholera hit.  Their son, Daniel Jr., died.  The cholera panic caused business to wither.  Daniel retreated to his dad’s shop in Newburyport, taking the reins when his father retired a couple years later.

Toft, Pallisy and Bailey.  Eventually others followed their lead.  A ‘Pallisy school’ assured periodic revivals of “Pallisy ware” for the next two centuries.  The slipware techniques pioneered by Toft spread throughout England, and even held their own against the Staffordshire factory ware tidal wave.  Several shires produced both slip and machine lathed ware for many years.  And on these shores, redware contributed to the cause of 1776…

They each, for a time and in their own unique ways, pushed the envelope.  But there’s an ironic catch to being at the cutting edge.  Toft and Paillisy made all the history books but died paupers.  Daniel Bailey faded to obscurity in relative comfort.

Readings:
Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

The Art of the Potter.  Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.

Peace

June 18, 2009

One of the early settlers of the village of Tarrytown, New York, was a  French potter named Claude Requa.  He settled there in 1729 after fleeing from his native France.  He was a Huguenot, a French Calvinist.  At the time, Huguenots were being rounded up by French authorities and given a choice: convert to Catholicism, or life in prison.  Over a century before, King Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes, guaranteeing religious tolerance.  But Henry was now gone, and so was the edict.  Huguenot potters like Requa, and his more famous predecessor Bernard Pallisy, were fair game.  Pallisy ended up dying in the Bastille of Lyons in 1589.

But Requa got away.  He and his family gave up everything to spend the rest of their life in a foreign country.  An excavation of the Requa pottery site in Tarrytown revealed many earthenware shards with geometric patterns slip trailed on them.  There was only one exception:  An almost complete platter with the word “Peace” trailed on it.

I have often thought of this platter.  Today, if one sees “Peace” trailed onto a plate, they might think “Yeah, like, peace-out dude.”  But what was Requa trying to say?  Had he finally found peace?  Was he still looking for it?  Was it his testament and warning to the world?  Was it his cherished wish for his fellow humans?

Whatever his motives, I am sure that this must have been a very powerful word to him.  I find that thought very moving.

Peace Plate

Peace Plate by Stephen Earp

Reading:
Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850. Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh ed. Academic Press/New York.  1985.